Matsumoto thought. If she had to choose a specific characteristic that her captain had that impressed her, it would have to be respect.
Perhaps he could come across slightly indignant and defiant to other captains from time to time but Matsumoto knew it was simply his nature to be cold and defensive. Perhaps it could be attributed to the jealous shinigami who talked about him in great length in his earlier years while he was still a student - a seated officer in training.
But as far as Rangiku Matsumoto was concerned, her captain Toshiro Hitsugaya, was respectful. He held the greatest respect to her, even though she felt she didn't deserve it.
In the very beginning of their relationship, when Matsumoto first laid her glassy blue eyes on her captain, a pronounced wave of remembrance came over her. She instantly recognized those intense teal eyes and hair that was white as snow. He had changed quite a bit. His hair stood straight up above his head in spikes instead of brushing about his face and his jaw had taken the most masculine definition she had seen on a young guy.
"Ah –" She stammered rather unprofessionally. But then again, did it matter to her? She was standing in front of that kid who took change off the top of the counter. He was shown disrespect by that storeowner. And by a marvelous act of god, he had taken her advice, enrolled in the academy and had surpassed her in a matter of months by power and position.
"Matsumoto-fukutaichou, I look forward to working with you." She swore she saw a little smirk on his young little face.
"Taichou! It's you! You're even cuter than before!" She squealed before jumping him and enveloping him in a bone-crushing and relatively unprofessional hug.
"MMMPH!" He struggled in her grasp, turning a little blue from oxygen deprivation.
Matsumoto quickly pulled away after realizing that she was exposing her assets to a stranger, albeit her captain, still a stranger.
And who knows? He could be strange - lecherous or a perverted tween.
That tiny flicker of suspicion quickly went out as Hitsugaya stepped away from her vice like grip with annoyance plain across his face and not a hint of blush tinting his fair cheek. "Fukutaichou, such contact between us is wholly unnecessary. Keep that in mind for the future."
Her eyes danced with delight and a brilliant smile crossed her face while he pinched the bridge of his nose and scowled deeply. He had made a wonderful first impression. So what if he was short-tempered, stoic and cranky like an old man? She was sure she had the cutest taichou in the gotei 13. What's more, he showed her respect that was so foreign to her.
Kyouraku Shunsui of the eighth division was sure it was a matter of age. "Ne, Ran-chan. You wait till he hits puberty; you will be fighting to keep drool out that valley of yours."
"Ah Shunsui, always the joker. I believe my taichou is just like that. I don't think he's going to change." She defended her captain before finishing her drink.
"Don't get your hopes up, Matsumoto. Remember that old captain of yours? He was a real slime bag. Besides, who can tear their eyes away from those mountains? Combine some raging hormones and your precious innocent taichou won't be so innocent anymore." Ikkaku laughed uproariously.
Matsumoto glared at him, but realized that the bar top was covered with empty sake bottles and they were both heavily inebriated. She'd like to think that it was the sake talking.
And time passed.
Hitsugaya proved to be unfaltering.
She would pounce on him from behind, purposefully squishing his head into her cushiony boobs. "Guess who!" She giggled as she slapped her hands across his eyes.
"Matsumoto…" He growled, holding her by her wrists and pushing her hands away from his face.
"Eh, taichou, you're so smart. You got it right on your first try!"
"I don't believe anyone could get it wrong." He didn't say it as a sexual innuendo or in an insinuating tone. She hardly believed that her young captain could even come across as inappropriate in any way. He didn't say it with humor either. As if her captain said anything with humor. He stated it like it was a fact in a rather detached tone.
Yes, her captain never disappointed.
Sometimes she'd like to bring up her breasts for fun. All the other men seemed to like talking about it. Why not her captain?
Her friends thought she enjoyed pushing the grumpy and straight-laced captain's buttons. They believed Matsumoto passed the time by making him feel uncomfortable and teasing him. But the truth was Matsumoto had a guilty pleasure of pulling on all his strings because really, hardly anyone showed her so much respect. And although she always prided herself to be easy-going (not easy) and one of the boys, Hitsugaya's insistent nature of giving her the highest order of respect was utterly refreshing and it never failed to make her warm inside every time.
"Ne, taichou, do you like my boobs?"
The first time, the white haired captain choked on his tea before quickly regaining his composure. "Matsumoto… shouldn't you be focusing on other things?" He replied carefully.
"But, taichou, I'm seeking your opinion! It matters to me!"
"I'm neutral, fukutaichou, please try and get some paperwork done." With that, the discussion ended with him snapping his attention back to his writing.
"Hai, taichou." She replied with a small secret smile.
So her purposeful creation of awkward situations where his character was tested started slowly at first and unintentionally. She loved hugging her captain. She really did, he was so small with his features so furrowed that she couldn't help but to love to get him all winded up and muttering about protocol and paperwork when really she knew he relaxed easier after some physical affection.
Of course, it was also partly due to her selfishness that she enveloped him frequently in hugs that would smother his face into her boobs. She loved how he reacted to it. 'Coldly'. 'Disinterestedly'. Kyouraku claimed. But Matsumoto saw it as respect. He would never take advantage of her or his height that put him in, most would say, prime position.
Even when they were outrageously familiar with one another, he was still the same, unchanging.
"Oi, Matsumoto. What are you doing?"
It was a valid question. She knew it looked awkward. Hell, it was awkward. She was trying to get a precise amount of cleavage to be exposed from her outfit. Somehow today she had walked out of her quarters without arranging her outfit to perfection. It was hard work.
"Ah, taichou! This is terrible. Somehow my boobs are not falling out of my uniform right. What do you think?"
Hitsugaya took one steely glance at her before swiftly turning his head away, determined to keep his eyes away from her hands pawing at her boobs. "You look the same, Matsumoto. Get back to work!" He ordered exasperatedly, before grasping his brush once again.
To the very least, Matsumoto had the decency to blush when she recalled the incident when her boobs actually spilled out of her uniform. It was completely unexpected. She fell asleep on her desk and when she woke up from a startling dream, she yelped and shot upright in her chair. The first thing Matsumoto noticed was that Hitsugaya was looking at her. Not as though that action on its own was an odd thing, but because she knew her captain, and he was always extremely focused on his work. It had his undivided attention. Why be distracted now?
"Matsumoto, arrange your uniform." He ordered her with a hint of annoyance in his deep voice.
She looked down and up again, to see her captain meet her eyes and she had to bite her tongue to stop her laughter from bursting out. Even as her breasts were exposed to him, his big teal eyes refused to wander anywhere but her face.
Matsumoto took every opportunity that arose to brag to her friends about how much respect her captain showed to her. "He's more mature than you sleaze balls." She would half-jest. Of course, the men would protest. "Nonsense, it is an insult, Rangiku! He's not respecting you. Take it in offense that he fails to admire your undeniable beauty. In due time, Ran-chan… Or perhaps he plays for the other team." Shunsui was always so quick to object.
Imagine Matsumoto's horror when she walked into the tenth division office one day, her usual chirpy self suddenly fronted with the discovery that her captain had grown a good few inches taller and looked a lot less like a tween and more of a young man.
She nearly dropped the tea she had prepared for him. Did her captain grow overnight? No…it must have happened over the decades, little by little. So slowly that it went unnoticed.
'Give it time' she remembered Shunsui saying.
"No!" She gasped.
"What is it?" Hitsugaya asked, turning around to face her. He was bent over his table looking at some reports and when he straightened to full height, she realized he was only short a few inches from reaching her own height.
"Taichou, you're tall!" She exclaimed rather stupidly for the lack of anything better to say. There was no chance in hell that she was going to tell the truth.
Hitsugaya looked somewhat uncharacteristically bemused as he looked down at himself and back at her. "I've been growing somewhat, Matsumoto. But I'm still short."
"Aw, you're still so cute, taichou. And here I was afraid that you wouldn't be as cute if you were to grow taller."
She tried to focus on paperwork, really did. It gave her something other to do than contemplate on Hitsugaya's growth. As hard as Matsumoto tried, she looked up at him continuously throughout the day, wondering if his peak in hormones would change the captain she so loved and admired.
As she thought long and hard, she realized she had become so use to Hitsugaya's 'immune' responses that she didn't pay attention to how he reacted anymore than she would pay attention to dirt on the ground. It was a fact of life. But what if it wasn't anymore?
There was truly only one way to find out. However, the vice captain couldn't bring herself to do it.
She was almost entirely convinced by her male friends' adamant claims that she was scared to even observe where her captain's eyes focused on when he spoke to her.
After consultation with Kira, the more timid and effeminate guy of the lot, Matsumoto mustered up the courage to put her hot-blooded male friends' theories to the test.
"Really, What do you have to lose? If Hitsugaya-taichou reacts differently to your feminine wiles now, it would just go to show that he never showed you any real respect. It was simply because he was disinterested. You wouldn't be losing your captain, Rangiku. It would just be as if he never existed."
"So depressing, Kira!" The blonde whined.
He ignored her. "And if he behaves differently and hormonally, it would only show in a matter of time, whether or not you test him."
Matsumoto saw sense in that.
So before she tested him, she prepared herself: she would not be affected by however her captain responded to her abundant assets. She would not think of him as anything other than her cute innocent taichou. He still commanded her admiration and respect. And no matter how he reacted, he still respected her.
First thing in the morning, Matsumoto skipped merrily and slightly anxiously into her captain's office, flying across the room and pulling the white haired captain into a great hug when he was seated behind his desk, effectively pushing his face into her breasts.
The moment he let out his usual muffled yelp, all confidence and mantra chanting Matsumoto clung onto evaporated. Who was she kidding? Hitsugaya Toshiro may be the most exemplary captain in her eyes, the most tightly wound and simultaneously the purest person she had ever met, but, the sad truth was, above it all he was still…
Males who were constantly trying to cop a feel from her in bars and clubs. Males who spent time getting off on pictures of naked females. Males who chased skirts and played around. Males who only saw chests and asses. Males who humped anything in sight…
Forget it all. Matsumoto thought. She would have to suck it up and wipe away the drool from her cleavage later.
Hitsugaya tore himself away from her hug and his bright teal eyes shone in annoyance. He rubbed his temples as the vein above his white brow throbbed menacingly. "Matsumoto, spare me. It's barely past dawn and there are piles of paperwork to fill and a captains' meeting at noon. I hope you dragged your lazy ass here to do work."
With that little frustrated vent, he glared at her halfheartedly before taking his seat behind his desk and diving headfirst into his work.
She searched his face for a hint of redness, that little spot of drool Kyouraku warned her of and any dilation of his eyes but all she saw was his furrowed brows and tightly pursed lips as his hand hovered above paper in utter concentration.
Matsumoto was ecstatic. She knew it; of course she knew it! Nothing would change her taichou. Not even raging hormones. She fled from the office to tell the boys the good news, leaving a trail of dust and a stack of paperwork undone in her leave.
"MATSUMOTO!" Hitsugaya's terrible bellow could be heard all over sereitei.
"You're all wrong! Taichou didn't react the slightest bit different." She declared triumphantly with her hand resting on her cocked hip, eyes brimming with pride.
Disbelieving looks were exchanged among the congregated men before Ikkaku cried out, "You're wrong! It wasn't an honest test. If you want to test him, it must be done thoroughly!"
Five hours later, Jushiro Ukitake knocked on the doors of the tenth division.
"Ukitake, what can I help you with?" Hitsugaya asked, startled to see the smiling and ever charismatic thirteenth division captain on his steps. "Well, shiro-chan, I haven't been feeling very well today." He explained, allowing his smile to drop ever so slightly, sticking out his lower lip in a subtle pout.
"Would you like to step in for some tea?" The shorter captain asked anxiously, scrutinizing the taller captain's face and body for any indication that he might pass out on the steps of his office. Hitsugaya didn't enjoy making small talk and socializing much. But Ukitake was always nice enough to him and well; he did look paler than usual…
"Really?" Ukitake asked, pleasantly surprised. "I mean, thank you, Hitsugaya-kun. But Unohana-san thinks it's a good idea for me to recuperate in the hot springs. Would you care to join me?"
Hitsugaya nearly automatically declined, but upon thinking back at how long he had spent sitting on his ass filing mindless reports and how Ukitake was sick...it became simple. How could he refuse a sick man?
Once they arrived at the hot springs, Hitsugaya felt the riatsu of his captain and a few familiar faces and immediately regretted accompanying Ukitake. He felt slightly set up.
"Oi, Matsumoto. What are you doing here?"
Ukitake pushed a lock of pale hair behind his ear and laughed nervously. "I forgot to tell you, Hitsugaya-kun that our friends would be joining us. I invited them." He explained while the others nodded with all too innocent expressions.
"Enjoying the hot springs, what else, taichou? It's good for the body and mind." She grinned at him with her hundred-watt smile. "Nothing like hot water to destress."
He grunted and shook his head in disbelief. "I don't believe you're stressed to begin with." He muttered under his breath.
Impatiently, Ikkaku ripped the towel off his waist and plunged into the pool of water. "Hurry up you ninnies, the water's great!"
Yumichika, Renji, Kira, Kyouraku and Ukitake stripped and entered the pool quickly as well and began to conspicuously watch Matsumoto and her captain. "Come in, come in! The warmth is refreshing."
Hitsugaya narrowed his eyes at Matsumoto, almost sure she had some sort of plan under her sleeves…or towel. It was either to get him to socialize or relax. Either of which, he didn't really care. Her plans could go to hell. What he was going to do was find a nice spot away from the others and take a little nap for the heat was making him drowsy.
"Are you sure you should be undressing in front of all these men?" He asked her quietly.
"Why not, taichou? You're so prudish. We're all friends here, no, taichou? It's not like they haven't seen a female body before." Matsumoto laughed it off. Deep down, she was scared as hell as to how her captain would react.
Hitsugaya searched her eyes for any trace of doubt before giving a good glare at the men in the pool. Finally, when he was done staring them down. He shrugged, dropped his towel and dived into the waters. As uncomfortable as he was at the idea that all those men would be staring at her, it had been a long time since he realized what Matsumoto wanted, Matsumoto would do.
Matsumoto found herself beating down a blush that was threatening to rise to her cheeks as she stared at her nude captain. She pushed some inappropriate thoughts aside, focusing on the plan.
This was it. Matsumoto thought. Time to find out the truth.
She cleared her throat rather expectantly and smiled coyly at her friends, including her captain in the water. Making sure to get their full attention before slowly peeling the towel off her body.
She held her breath. And so did Hitsugaya before he slipped under the surface of the water quietly to swim away.
There were wolf whistles and catcalls...but no word from her captain. She released her breath in relief as she saw him close his eyes and retreat under the water. After the commotion died down. One by one, her friends admitted defeat.
"You're right, Rangiku-san. He didn't even look. I saw it myself. He closed his eyes the moment he saw you pull at your towel." Renji admitted honestly.
Matsumoto was positively effervescent. She giggled, she splashed about and finally she rested by the edge of the waters, smiling contently to herself.
She closed her eyes and relaxed before she felt someone swim up to her and then heard Yumichika's voice. "You are gorgeous, Ran-chan. You bring pride to the female form." He had a habit of pointing out beautiful things. Matsumoto nodded and accepted his praise. She wasn't humble about her assets that was for sure.
"However, did it occur to you that maybe your taichou doesn't like what he sees? Maybe he simply does not find you beautiful. Why else would he not notice you?"
His words struck her hard.
Yumichika continued to speak, but she could barely hear him from her own thoughts.
"Of course…I think you're beautiful but…"
So that was why. It wasn't that he respected her. It was because he was simply unimpressed by her good looks. She didn't know why it mattered to her. But it just did. In all ways, she wanted to please her captain.
To discover that he wasn't fond of her looks was heartbreaking for Matsumoto.
The back of her eyes burned hotly and she felt tears prickle the skin behind her lids.
The next day at the office, Matsumoto trudged in at the crack of dawn with a heavy heart and equally heavy footsteps. Wordlessly, she found her place behind her desk and slumped over it, pen in hand and brain readied to do paperwork.
She wasn't sure how much time had passed but it seemed like forever since she began working.
"Two days in a row you have reached here at seven in the morning. And today, you are doing work without being nagged at." Hitsugaya's voice carried over gently in the room where the air was thick and heady.
Matsumoto looked up at her captain with dull eyes. "Are you feeling unwell, Matsumoto?"
"No, taichou…" She sighed sadly.
"Is it that time of the month again?" He asked with a small wince.
"Then what's wrong, Matsumoto? If there is a sale going on somewhere that you're missing out on, you have my permission to go."
"That's not it either, taichou…" She whimpered, lying her torso down on her desk and burying her face in her hands.
"Then what is it? I have neither the time nor the patience for guessing games, Matsumoto. Tell me and I'll let you take the day off."
His curiosity was genuinely piqued. What could have possibly gotten Matsumoto so down? She was in such a state of disparity that she was doing paperwork!
His incentive wasn't strong enough however. She merely sighed once again and shook her head mutely.
He slammed his cup of tea down onto his desk, causing her to jolt up in surprise from the knock.
"Matsumoto, you are my fukutaichou. And I am your taichou. And as your taichou I demand you to tell me what is wrong this instant!" Hitsugaya ordered firmly, brows twitching in annoyance and slight anticipation.
The vice captain hated when he pulled rank on her. Sure, sometimes it was just too damn cute, and sometimes it made her knees wobble. But most of the time, she hated when he pulled rank on her.
Might as well confront it head on. Matsumoto thought.
"Do you think I'm pretty, taichou?" She asked as if it were a perfectly normal question.
Only his vice captain could take him by surprise. Hitsugaya's white brows shot up his forehead. "Eh?" He let out unintelligently.
"Don't you want to know what's wrong?" Matsumoto pressed.
Hitsugaya cursed under his breath and rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. How was he going to get out of this one with his dignity intact?
"Sure you are, Matsumoto." He replied evenly.
"Am I attractive, taichou?" She continued.
"A lot of guys find you attractive." He answered, wondering where this conversation was leading.
She narrowed her eyes at him; frustrated. "I'm asking you, taichou."
Hitsugaya swallowed and tugged on his haori. What was she playing at? "Sure, Matsumoto. Why not?" He decided on the casual route.
Inwardly she glowed with happiness but fought to maintain her downtrodden façade.
"What do you like about me, taichou?"
Instantly he opened his mouth to answer but Matsumoto thought it through again and clarified, "what do you like about my appearances."
He stopped himself and cracked his knuckles as if readying himself for battle.
"Your…hair is pretty shiny. And it's really golden."
"Well, you have nice blonde lashes to match."
"And?" She asked again, lips pouting and eyes sad.
Hitsugaya's nerves were fraying. Of all his genius he couldn't decide on how best to answer his vice captain. "Uh, uh, the blue of your eyes is pretty too."
"Is that ALL, taichou?" She was whining now, on the verge of throwing a full-blown tantrum.
Hitsugaya blew a fuse. He was done playing along with her game. Half standing from his seat, vein beating madly above his brow and face hot, he yelled, "OUT WITH IT, MATSUMOTO!"
"ARE YOU GAY, TAICHOU?" She cried out.
The air in the office suddenly became thick and mucky.
He fell back onto his seat immediately. "What?"
Matsumoto rolled her eyes. "I asked, 'are you gay?' "
Hitsugaya shook his head slowly. "Why…?"
"Because…you…and…ugh! Stop shaking your head, I get it!" Matsumoto clucked her tongue in annoyance.
The white-haired captain stared at her as if he had grown another limb. How the hell did she end up in such a situation in the first place?
Oh right, that.
The whole story poured out in that very instance.
"The first time that we met even though I planted your face in my cleavage you were all formal and…
…And Ikkaku was like 'nooo' let's test him properly and the towel came off and oh god, everyone was 'ooh-ing' and 'ah-ing' but not a single sound from you, taichou…
I mean honestly, at first I thought you were just being you, taichou but Yumichika had to come up to me and just screw my mind upside down and well he said that you probably didn't find me beautiful and I remembered how Shunsui said the last and most probable reason would be that you were gay so I…"
"Stop, Matsumoto." He commanded in a soft but firm tone.
Matsumoto blew an errant lock of blonde hair away from her face and looked up timidly at her captain, preparing herself for the lecture of a lifetime of how stupid she was for concerning herself with anything other than paperwork and for wasting his time.
But it never came. She let out her baited breath when she saw Hitsugaya sitting there calmly with his arms folded and his eyes dancing in amusement.
He cleared his throat a little.
"I'm not homosexual
And, you're plenty beautiful, Matsumoto." He clarified with uncharacteristic patience.
"I am?" She asked, disbelievingly with her lips forming a little 'o'.
"Then why do you not see my boobs?" She asked, pointing at the offending rounds of flesh.
"Because I see other things in you, fukutaichou."
"You do?" She asked a bit dumbly.
Hitsugaya nodded with a small upturn of his lips. "I see your loyalty, your lion heart, your insufferable cheer, your smarts, your ability to make my tea just perfect, your incessant need to hum, your warmth and your incorrigible negligence towards all propriety."
"But you love it, taichou!" Matsumoto giggled, feeling like herself again.
He only shrugged his broad shoulders and she took it as confirmation.
"On occasion I notice how your eyes are the color of the sky and how your hair rolls down in waves off your back."
Matsumoto smirked but Hitsugaya's face looked absolutely unimpressed and stoic. "On occasion." He repeated himself, glaring at her arrogant grin.
"But Matsumoto, your…chest? Really? It's only female anatomy, fukutaichou. Men can be moronic, always wanting things they don't have." Hitsugaya explained, scrunching his nose in distaste.
"And taichou is just too clever for that, isn't it."
"Damn straight." Hitsugaya muttered, leaning forward to continue his interrupted work.
Matsumoto was finally content. She reclined in her chair and watched her equivalent of a teenage captain work hard on the mundane pile of information, enjoying life, as she knew it. They were so wrong. And the moment she saw them after work she would tell them that. She would tell them that they were merely foolish men and she would tell Yumichika that her captain did indeed find her beautiful.
Suddenly, Hitsugaya looked up at her again, lips set in a tight grimace, unperturbed that she was watching him, and added as an afterthought,
"Besides, it's just plain disrespectful."